The suggestion of such a surprising sound-clash doesn’t encapsulate the band’s sound, per se, but it plays perfectly into their collection of influences and their development over the years.
The Kalamazoo-based four-piece – now made up of vocalist/guitarist Logan Castle, drummer/vocalist Jon Petro, lead guitarist/vocalist Tim Panos, and bassist/vocalist Zach Lewey – has survived lineup changes, van explosions, college degree programs, and day jobs. They draw inspiration from everything from ‘90s alternative bands like Counting Crows, Blind Melon and Collective Soul to ‘70s classic rock, blues, jam, and acoustic singer-songwriters. Their nearly decade-long history in the West Michigan music scene has found them playing everywhere from pitch-black basement shows to the Hard Rock Café in Chicago, and Kalamazoo’s own Bell’s Brewery, where they’ll release their new, self-titled album July 13.
Now known for rocking, Combat Corduroy started out, oddly enough, as an acoustic trio with Castle playing alongside fellow Gull Lake High School alumni Annie Jennings on piano/vocals and Brandon Jennings on cello/vocals. They played briefly with drummer Ryan Etzcorn (now of Detroit indie-folk standouts Frontier Ruckus), but when he couldn’t make it to a metal show that the then-Evanescence-sounding Combat was booked to play eight years ago, Castle called up Petro (a powerful, passionate drummer with a predilection for Led Zeppelin) to join in for a heavier jam. He entered the Combat Corduroy fold and has remained ever since.
Most recently the band parted ways with former lead guitarist/vocalist Andrew Watkins during their last tour of the East Coast after he decided to live with his girlfriend in Colorado. They quickly got Panos out on the road with them, only to have their original, rusty white band van – with “Combat Corduroy” spray-painted on the side – break down in upstate New York. They sold it for scrap and finished the tour, borrowing vehicles and backlines, returning home by U-Haul and Greyhound. With Panos unable to split time with his day job, the band auditioned several new lead guitarists. Going through Craiglist ads, and even playing for a while with a former Berklee School of Music grad, the band eventually convinced Panos to play with them again. They’ve since welcomed their friend bassist Zach Lewey (formerly of The History Channel House Band) into the band, after he returned to Kalamazoo following an internship at The Agency (an international booking agency in Los Angeles) and Jennings’ recent departure from the group.
Despite those setbacks, Combat Corduroy has hit a number of personal milestones in the last two years, following the release of their 2011 album, Bless The Flowers, Bless The Weeds. They’ve opened for Keller Williams at the State Theatre, Rusted Root at the Entertainment District, played The Intersection in Grand Rapids for the first time opening for Badfish: A Tribute to Sublime, and had the opportunity to record and jam with another Gull Lake alum, former Metallica bassist Jason Newsted, this past New Year’s, at their “home base” – Koyez Productions, run by Gull Lake alum, car crash survivor, and lifelong Newsted friend, Gary Kyes.
“That was the most incredible experience of my life so far in music,” Petro said about playing with Newsted.
When asked about one of their best shows ever, Lewey described a night at Tujax in Delton, when the small bar filled beyond capacity as Combat Corduroy brought along nationally touring act Irish band The Enemies, featuring Colin O’Donoghue from the ABC TV series Once Upon A Time.
“People were partying, making love, getting in fights, dancing, singing,” Lewey said. “It was the most engaging show I have ever played.”
Their upcoming release show July 13 at Bell’s looks to rank right up with their best.
“This will be our third time playing and headlining at Bell’s,” drummer Jon Petro told Recoil. “The first time we played was a huge deal for all of us. I think I speak for pretty much all of the musicians in the Kalamazoo area in saying that it truly is an honor and milestone to have the opportunity to play Bell’s period, let alone be able to have our CD release party there.”
Former Western Michigan University band Stikyfüt (now based in Detroit) will open the release show. Combat Corduroy are close with countless other acts in and around West Michigan, including Flypaper, Pleasant Drive, Electric Jug Band and Trip n’ Dixie.
“I love the diversity of music being created and supported in West Michigan,” Lewey said. “I don’t think that national or worldwide recognition is a major goal for artists and bands in West Michigan; creating meaningful art is of higher priority. And I love that. Living in Los Angeles last summer made me realize how great West Michigan music and art really is.”
For their new CD, Castle said Combat Corduroy prepped and demoed for about six months, finding the right fits, writing new songs, and polishing favorites from the vault.
“We wanted to capture the energy and intensity of our live show in our new self-titled album,” Castle said. “The new CD takes Combat completely out of the jam and acoustic scene and proudly represents what rock is supposed to be.”
Although Combat Corduroy has self-produced, mixed and mastered everything they’ve released up until now, the band decided to enlist producer/recording engineer Eric Garcia (a recent graduate of the University of Michigan) to help get the unique sound they were looking for on the new album.
“There is definitely a heavy nineties quality to the tunes, but with the rage and epic sounds that can only be birthed with some darkness by your side,” Castle said. “This album takes you on a journey through the life, love, and loss of working through life as a musician. There is love, sex, drugs, and even some stories of kings and castles.”
Last year Combat Corduroy showcased for record label veteran Kim Stephens (former A&R for Atlantic Records who signed Matchbox 20, Collective Soul, Edwin McCain, Sick Puppies and Seven Mary Three), who now works as an executive consultant for Capitol and Virgin Records, and asked to hear the new album as soon as it’s finished. They’ve also talked with two indie labels in the last four months, and are currently negotiating an offer.
“We are always trying to stay a step ahead of the game, so the future is limitless at this point,” Petro said. “We have set our goals high!”
The band will launch a Kickstarter.com project to raise funds so they can document their upcoming first European tour on film. They’ve also started working on a collaborative EP titled Family Blood featuring other artists they’ve grown up with including Etzcorn, Ashley Ickes (of Flypaper), blues guitarist Cody Seybert, Annie Jennings, Micaela Kingslight, and members of Stikyfüt, Branden Mann and the Reprimand and The Kalamazoo River Monsters.
Combat Corduroy will release their new self-titled album July 13 at Bell’s. For more info and other upcoming tour dates click over to combatcorduroy.com.-Eric Mitts